Canadian artist Sydney Hollinger Watson was born and educated in Toronto, and was a scholarship student at the Central Technical School from 1926–1928, though he was mainly self-taught. He was employed as a commercial artist during the 1930s in diverse fields, and from 1940 to 1944, he held the position of Art Master at Lakefield Preparatory School. In 1946 he joined the Ontario College of Art as a teacher, becoming Vice-Principal of the Design Department from 1949 to 1954, and finally Principal of the College from 1955 to 1970. During his tenure as Principal, the Ontario College of Art expanded its visual art disciplines and added three new buildings, becoming Canada’s top art school.
Watson was a prolific muralist whose work can be found in major corporate headquarters, universities, churches and hospitals. His ‘Province of Ontario’ is a brightly coloured mosaic mural which was commissioned by the Government of Ontario for the MacDonald Block at Queen’s Park in Toronto. It uses a variety of traditional and contemporary symbols in a modern decorative style, representing the history of Ontario’s European settlement, natural resources and products. It includes stylized crosses of Saint George, Saint Andrew and Saint Patrick, along with the flag carried by Samuel de Champlain.
In ‘St. Lawrence Town’, Watson reminds of us of our strong French Canadian Catholic roots – a school on the crest of the hill overlooks the town, with a duo of nuns in long black capes with white flowing habits making their way along the road. A train sits on the rail, ready to take freight or people to the next populated town.
Watson was active in Toronto art circles and became an elected member of several art societies including the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour in 1942 and the Ontario Society of Artists in 1947, where he served as President from 1952–1954. In 1954 he joined the Canadian Group of Painters, and in the same year was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy as well as the National Industrial Design Council in 1955. He exhibited widely and his work can be found the many important public collections, including the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University at Kingston, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, the Canadian War Museum, the National Gallery of Canada and Hart House at the University of Toronto.